Friday, November 6, 2009

The one in which I tell you the point of the project

I love to read. I always have. Reading has been a form of escapism for me throughout much of my life. A lonely child seeks companionship in a book, a bullied adolescent finds peace and acceptance among her literary friends, an adult heals her sadness and escapes her reality by losing herself in someone else’s story. I am all of these people. So when I finished my most recent book yesterday (Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed), I immediately went to the bookshelf looking for inspiration. I grabbed The Cure for Death by Lightning – a book I have owned for years and started many times but never finished – and immediately tossed it onto my night side table wondering, “what else is there to read”. I started thinking about how people come to choose their next book.

What about you? How do you choose? If you’re like me, you have a running list of things you want to read. If you’re like me, you also have a list of books you feel you should read. The lists however, are rarely at my fingertips, and so last night I turned (as I so often do) to my good friend Google. “Books to read”, I queried. It responded quickly: how about

Ok, I’ll take that bait. I hit the link. And there it was. “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die”. Must I? Really? Will my life be incomplete if I skip these 1001 books? Will I find partial fulfillment if I only make it to 362? And who is
this guy to decide what the best 1001 books are? To be honest, I didn’t really ask myself any of these questions. I just thought, yes, THAT is what I’m going to do! I am going to read those 1001 books. And then? Then, I had the brilliant idea to write about it! My reasons are simple:

1) I would like to know more. I know what I know, and I know what I don’t know. But I don’t know a thing about all the stuff I don’t know a thing about. You know? To put this in a way the fans of Bernard Lonergan might understand, we are bound by our horizons. Our horizons are formed from our perspective and knowledge. We can really only know that which lies within our horizons. In order to broaden those horizons, we must broaden the knowledge contained within them. Easy, right? Yeah, right!

2) I would like to become a better writer. I have done a lot of reading lately about what makes writers good and how writers get better and the resounding consensus is this: if you want to write well, write often and read obsessively!

So reading these 1001 books, and documenting the process along the way, will no doubt expand the horizons of my current perspective. I may not enjoy every book, but I’m guessing I’ll learn something from each and every one of them.

Which brings us to the books. I have quickly scanned the list and in doing so found myself placing the books into categories. There are books I have already read, some of which I would (and will) (and have, actually) read over and over again (
Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Handmaid’s Tale). There are books I thought I had escaped in high school (The Mayor of Casterbridge) and books I have tried to read before but have cast aside out of boredom (Mrs. Dalloway) or frustration (damn you, Confederacy of Dunces!). And there are books I have spent my whole damn life avoiding but because of my commitment to completing this list will now have to read even though I could barely sit through the movies (The Lord of the Rings, I am talking to YOU!).

My first task, I suppose is to figure out exactly which books on the list I’ve already read (I think if I’ve read them in the last 5 years I’ll skip them, otherwise I’ll give them a re-read). Then I will figure out which books on the list I actually own and gather them together for easy access. Then I will make sure my library card is up to date and dig in! I think will approach this task randomly; sort of close my eyes and point or choose a number between 1 and 1001. Maybe you can look at the list and throw a few suggestions my way. I will note the dates that I complete the books and I will NOT impose a deadline on myself! I can’t even think of what a practical deadline would be? I currently read about one book a week, so assuming that pace, I should be done in… wait a minute… 20 years? No, that can’t be right! Let me check my math… that’s 52 books a year… 1001 divided by… uh, yeah, ok, 20 years. So, I guess I better get going…

Wish me luck!